How to Design a System to Maximize Creative Output

One of the biggest reasons creative people struggle to make ideas happen is a lack of systems. If you want to maximize your creative output, you need to build a system that lets you capture ideas, reflect, express those ideas, amplify their impact, tell people about them and helps you to evolve.

By designing an an effective system you’ll be able to maximize your creative output and build a thriving creative career.

The Value of Having a System to Maximize Your Creative Output

Systems make you more prolific, productive and creative. They separate professionals from amateurs.

You might think the constraints of having a system will kill your serendipity and stifle your creativity. But a they have the opposite effect. By having a system for maximizing creative output, you reallocate the mental bandwidth that went into organizing your work to actually doing it.

By definition, a goal is something you’ve yet to accomplish. It’s a future outcome. Having a system lets you concentrate on the present and focus on the process over the prize. It’s the linchpin of the creative process for anyone who consistently makes ideas happen.

A system gives you a roadmap to help determine the actions that will lead to your goal. It helps you break creative projects up into the smallest manageable parts. You’re able to leverage the profound power of consistency and this leads to visible progress. This helps you stay motivated to accomplish the goal.

In his book Rest: Why We Get More Done When We Work Less, Alex Pang cites the research of psychologist Graham Wallas and describes a four-stage process that leads to creative breakthroughs:

1. Preparation

2. Incubation

3. Illumination

4. Verification

You’ll notice this same process in the framework of this article. The system I’ve outlined below has been helped me to maximize creative output and write hundreds of blog posts, multiple books and record 1000 interviews for the Unmistakable Creative Podcast.

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1. Capture

Capturing ideas is the first step in designing a reliable system for creative work. You can’t cook food without ingredients. And you can’t capitalize on your ideas unless you capture them.

Capturing ideas is a bit like putting something in the oven to bake. Ideas don’t always show up fully formed or ready to execute. It might be weeks, months or years before you capitalize on an idea you capture.

Capture Ideas in Multiple Forms and Capture them Everywhere

By capturing ideas in multiple forms you’ll have a vast library of inputs in your creative brain that will serve as reference points for making your ideas happen.

  • Swipe files: copywriters use swipe files to save examples of headlines that made them open an email, calls to action that made them click a link and language that struck a chord with them.
  • Moodboards/Image Libraries: designers, brand strategists, bloggers and many other people use moodboards and image libraries to inspire their ideas.
  • Commonplace Books: “A commonplace book is a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits. The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking or whatever it is that you do.” – Ryan Holiday
  • Bookmarks and Resource Collections: Throughout the day, you’ll come across different resources and reference material (books, podcast, videos, etc). This helps to you curate and organize them.
  • Idea repositories: blogger and writers keep running lists of ideas they might want to write about.
  • Tweetstorms/Status Updates: sometimes it can be valuable to capture ideas in a series of tweets or status updates. Feedback from other people can help you refine the ideas and your thought process.

What sounds like a ridiculous and stupid idea today might be brilliant tomorrow. Don’t judge your ideas. Capture them now and filter them later.

Organize and Structure Your Ideas

A few years ago I was doing a workshop for global marketing team at at Citibank. One of the exercises in the workshop was to assemble a complicated Lego set in under an hour. The teams that finished did one thing differently. They organized the pieces into categories before they started putting them together.

Expert-level Lego sets come with over a 1000 pieces. If you’ve ever tried to put one together, it’s possible you’ve convinced yourself that the morons at Lego left parts out when you can’t find them. A lack of organization and structure is one of the biggest obstacles that will keep you from making progress with your ideas.

It’s why Scott Belsky says: Organization X Creativity = Impact.

When you organize all the pieces in advance, you’ll spend less time looking for pieces and more time building the Lego set. The same holds true for the system you build to maximize your creative output.

The most effective structure for organizing information I’ve come across after 10 years of creative work is Tiago Forte’s concept of building a second brain, which allows you to organize your ideas into four categories:

  • Projects
  • Areas of Responsibility
  • Resources
  • Archives

Putting everything into four overarching categories helps you to make order out of anarchy. You’re able to navigate your digital life with a sense of calm focus.

Instead of a jumbled mess of files with no context, it’s a bit like having filing cabinets for capturing your ideas. One thing Tiago recommends is to maintain this structure across all the various tools you use. I’ve included screenshots below with how I use this structure for all my apps and tools.

Choose Your Tools to Capture Ideas and Reference Material

The Bullet Journal: Because I prefer to to avoid using technology for the first part of the day and read physical books, the bullet journal is an essential part of my system for maximizing creative output. I only move ideas from the Bullet Journal when I’m ready to expand on them.

Walling: There are going to be times when you’re not sure how to organize an idea or thought. But you know it’s something you want to remember. That’s where Walling comes in. It frees you from the need to know where to capture an idea, or how you might capitalize it on it in the future.

For example, I was browsing the web and discovered a platform for virtual events called Run the World. It occurred to me to host a virtual summit for our listeners. I could write a quick note in Walling, create a node called virtual conference, and go to the graph section where I’d see what I’ve captured.

Notion: Notion is the linchpin of my personal system for maximizing creative output. The main thing I capture in Notion is ideas for blog posts in my editorial calendar.  You can see how  I setup my Notion Workspace in this video. 

Roam: Roam is a recent addition to my workflow. The power of Roam lies in a feature called bi-directional links. This is helps you to see how ideas relate to each other.

Eagle: This is my favorite tool for managing visual assets for multiple reasons. You can right-click on images from any page and download them or download a whole batch. If have an idea for something want to illustrate, I can capture all the visuals that inspire me.

I would describe my workflow as Roam for Research, Walling for Incubation/Ideation, and Notion for Creation.

In every system, whether it be one that maximizes creative output or does something else, inputs create domino effects. Take the example of the Lego set I mentioned earlier in this post.

Every step influences the one that comes after. If you do something wrong on step 3 it can hinder your ability to complete step 10. You end up having to go back and redo everything you’ve just done.

Like the Lego set, systems that maximize creative output are dynamic, not static. So you can’t take a set it and forget it approach. As your creative work evolves, your system will need to as well.

You’ll uncover bottlenecks, areas for improvement and new ways to optimize the system for the highest output. In almost every case, the person who built the system discovers that they are the bottleneck. Half the work of being the architect of a system is trying to break it.

When my friend Gareth builds complex Airtable automations for people, the first thing he does after building the automation is try to break it. In these kinds of automations, every trigger determines whether the next one will work. He knows that if he can break it, his clients probably will too.

This is why organization is such a critical part of the creative process.

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2. Reflect

Reflection is the predecessor to creative self-expression and the most underrated aspect of designing a system to maximize creative output.

Our lives are inundated with digital inputs: emails, text messages, status updates, notifications and more. To overcome the obstacles between vision and reality, we need to disconnect from the world around us and connect to the world within us. To do your best work and maximize creative output, you need long stretches of uninterrupted concentration.

Reflection gives you the necessary windows of solitude that improve your attention span, spark creative insight and solve creative problems. It’s hard to connect with the world outside of you when you don’t take the time to reflect and listen to the world within you.

Windows of solitude give us time to reflect on our ideas, process our thoughts, connect dots and generate creative insights. As I wrote in my book An Audience of One, it’s hard to hear the sound of your creative voice when you’re drowning in a sea of noise.

Reflection forces us to slow down and become more intentional with how we go about our work and live our lives. It doesn’t just provide clarity and serve as an incubation period for our creative ideas. It gives us the opportunity to ask why we’re working on them in the first place.

There are several tools that help you reflect on your ideas before you’re ready to express them. Experiment and figure out which one is right for you.

Limit Your Input and Be Deliberate About Your Consumption Habits

Millions of links, pictures, videos and more roll through our social media feeds every day. Hundreds of emails clutter our inboxes and with the 24-hour news cycle there always seems to be “breaking news.” Mindless media consumption gets in the way of our ability to reflect.

By limiting our inputs and becoming mindful and deliberate about our consumption habits, we can give ourselves the the space and time for reflection. Not only that, we will get more out of the media we consume.

  • Instead of scrolling through Netflix for something to watch every night, create a watchlist of your favorite movies.
  • Pick 3-4 of your favorite bloggers or pick one and go through their entire body of work.
  • Use a service like Mailbrew to be more deliberate about the content your consume.

Not only does what we consume shape our behavior, it will determine whether we maximize creative output or minimize it. Social networks, media outlet, and other players in the digital landscape are driven by a consumption imperative. The more you consume, the less you create, and the more of your attention gets sold to advertisers.

“The human brain is constantly developing. Everything you do an experience is reshaping connections in your brain, strengthening some connections while weakening or pruning others. This also holds true for your online life, every link you follow, every post you read, every comment you make is shaping the wiring of your brain” says Tiffany Shlain in her book 24/6.

Hence the reason, I say to treat the information you consume like the food you eat. Deliberate consumption means being intentional about what you allow into your life.

Follow Your Curiosity and Diversify Your Inputs

When you follow your curiosity, intrinsic motivation kicks in and work becomes its own reward. Personal curiosity determines every guest choice I make on the Unmistakable Creative. Because of that, I get ideas from a wide cross-section people to seed my creative thinking.

Most of us (myself included) are guilty of only exposing ourselves to ideas that confirm our existing beliefs. We watch the same shows, read the same books, and listen to the same podcast. It puts us inside of what Author Eli Pariser calls a filter bubble.

The more ideas you expose yourself to, the more reference points you’ll have to draw from to fuel your creative thinking.

You need a wide variety of ingredients and spices to cook Indian food. But bland food is the opposite. In the same way, you need a variety of reference material to fuel your creativity if you don’t want your work to be bland.

Part of why we lose our creative capacity is because of the decrease in exposure to new ideas that takes place with age. Our social programming teaches us what is and isn’t worthy of our time and attention. As it does, we get “set in our ways.” As a result, we’re less likely to seek out viewpoints that don’t confirm our existing beliefs and let cognitive bias get in the way of creative expression.

When you limit the diversity of ideas you expose yourself to, you end up in an echo chamber. Echo chambers stifle original ideas. This is why I read books on a wide range of topics which include economics, history, psychology/personal development, biology and more.

The more you diversify your inputs, the more you’ll increase the ability to maximize your creative output. As Robert Greene once said to me about the process of mastery, the analogy is biodiversity. The more species you have in a ecosystem for richer that ecosystem” The same holds true for our media consumption habits.

Creative thinking requires deliberate media consumption, often fuelled by curiosity rather than the desire for some particular outcome. You’ll often get your best insights from unlikely sources, more often than not, which have little to do with your work.


The beauty of maintaining a journal in physical notebook is that it’s distraction-free by default. With nothing else competing for your attention, it provides clarity and an opportunity to contemplate important questions. It helps you turn information into insight and knowledge into wisdom.

Writing things down helps us to see our thoughts more objectively in the midst of a crisis or in the aftermath of a traumatic experience. Even though it can help us make progress with our ideas, it’s important to show up at the blank page without expectations or judgement and write whatever comes to mind.

You never know how something you write down in a journal today could benefit you tomorrow, the day after or 10 years from now. Your journal is fertile soil for creative ideas.


“Too often as adults we seem to believe that play is just a diversion or another form of competition outside of the workplace. But play is one of the most serious things in the world. We often do things really well, only when we do them playfully,” says Erno Rubik in his book Cubed: The Puzzle Of Us All.

When we play, we return to a child like state of curiosity. We tap into flow, the creative superpower that makes the impossible possible. And we can bring that back to our work when we’re ready to express our ideas.

In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeown writes about following benefits of play:

Play broadens the range of options available to us. It helps us see possibilities we otherwise wouldn’t have seen and make connections we otherwise would not have made.

Play is an antidote to stress, and this is key because stress, in addition to being an enemy of productivity, can shut down the creative, inquisitive, exploratory of parts of our brain.

Play stimulates the the parts of the brain involved in both careful, logical reasoning, and carefree, unbound exploration.

  • Build a Lego Set: One of my favorite ways to do this is to build Lego sets. Lego sets are three dimensional puzzles. They force you to unplug from your computer and figure out how the pieces fit together. The same is true for any creative project.
  • Solve a Rubik’s Cube: “The cube builds on cognitive and emotional skills that are at the very core of learning and succeeding in the the twenty-first century. Solving the cube requires and improves visual working memory” says Erno Rubik, inventor the Rubix cube.

While play can support us in achieving creative breakthroughs, if we see that as its only purpose, we’re less likely to get the benefits of it.


Spending time in nature is another invaluable method of reflection and it can have a profound impact on creativity.

Before the pandemic forced us all into our homes, I would take entire days of the week off to snowboard. I got my best ideas on the mountain, not while sitting in front of my computer.

But over the last few months, I found myself spending more time in front of a computer. My roommate Matthew and I decided to take a break at 3pm every day and go for a walk.

We don’t have an agenda or try to make the walk productive. But our walks have led to personal and professional breakthroughs for both of us.

Whether it’s a walk in the woods, a swim in the ocean or a day on a mountain skiing or snowboarding, spending time in nature lets you unplug and allows you to tap into the power of your unconscious.


Meditation can help you to stress less and accomplish more. “By stopping the biological depletion cycle that has become the norm in our culture and replacing it with self-sufficient means of elevating your personal and professional performance, you’re laying the groundwork for a more engaged, creative, rested and healthy version of yourself to emerge,” says Emily Fletcher.


Familiar environments breed familiar behavior and thought patterns. Travel exposes us you to new environments and leads to new thought patterns. You become more observant of the details in your environment.

A trip to the grocery store becomes an adventure. And if you’re in a country like India, crossing the street turns into a real-life version of the video game frogger. But you don’t have to plan an exotic or expensive vacation to reap the benefits of travel for maximizing your creative output.

There’s often plenty to see in your own backyard. Every week, my roommates and I pick a destination that’s a short drive from where we live and take a day trip. These trips get out us out our environment, expose us to new stimuli, and give us time to reflect on work and life.

Take a Sabbatical or Think Week

Every year, Bill Gates takes a week off from work to read, think, and write. Stefan Sagmeister shuts his studio down for a year and takes a sabbatical from his work

While taking entire years or weeks off work may not be realistic for most people, we can modify this practice and adapt it to our lives to maximize creative output. Unplug for a weekend or pick one day and use that time to reflect.


After finishing his research for his next book, Ryan Holiday spends time on what is known as a draw-down period, which he says is the most important part of the creative process that everyone misses.

“It’s the moment after you’ve had the idea, after you’ve put the first round of thinking into the project and then have to step back and say: “Ok, what do I really have here?” “Do I actually have something?” “What is this really going to be?”

Lee Zlotoff, the creator of Macgyver made regular use of draw-down periods for maximizing creative output, which became known as the Macgyver Method.

Reflection is a deliberate pause between idea and execution, a decision to unplug and step away from the work. As Brian Scudamore says, “Successful people spend 10 hours a week just thinking.”

While it might seem unproductive to spend time reflecting, it’s an important part of preparing you for the hard work of bringing an idea to life.

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3. Express

Expression is how you bridge the gap between vision and reality to maximize your creative output. You take action on your ideas by writing the first paragraph of an article, verse of a song, or shooting the first scene of a film.

When we express ourselves, we let out everything that’s inside. Fill the blank page with words. Cover the canvas. Creative self-expression isn’t just a task or an item on a to-do list. It’s creating for an audience of one, the daily discipline of routine and ritual, turning pro and cultivating a lifelong practice.


When you begin to express your ideas, it’s inevitable that you’ll encounter what Steven Pressfield calls resistance: the dragon that’s present in the eternal gap between who you are and who you want to be.

While the finished product of a person’s creative output appears perfected and polished, the process is anything but. It’s an imperfect mess, two steps backward and twenty steps forward.

Sometimes your vision for an idea won’t match the reality or your skill level or taste. It’s what Ira Glass calls the taste gap. Other times it will feel as if you’re banging your head against the wall, unable to make the slightest dent.

You’ll be tempted to ask yourself, “Why bother?” Fear and doubt might derail your efforts despite your best intentions. But if you can resist the temptation to quit, you’ll see that small consistent actions lead big impact.

Warm Up 

Using what I call a creative warm-up is one way to get your juices flowing. As I’ve said in this article I wrote for 99U, writers have to warm up like athletes.

During a warm-up, an athlete stretches, goes through the motions of what he or she will do on the field of play. Think of a basketball player warming up with a pre-game shoot around, a kicker practicing field goals or a quarterback throwing passes to his receiver.

We can take the same approach to our creative work. By going through the motions, we get ourselves ready for the work. When I’m stuck while writing, I take notes on the books I’ve read. This gets my fingers moving. It serves as a warm-up, gets me into a hrythm and even gives me ideas for what to write about.

By using a creative warm-up, we overcome the initial resistance we face when we’re trying to get started with expressing our ideas.

Follow a routine and Create on a Schedule 

Throughout history, the most prolific creators from artists to scientists have abided by routines. When when you wait to be inspired, it can easily become an excuse to avoid your work. Do that for long enough and you’ll have nothing but a desk drawer of unfulfilled dreams.

The creativity doesn’t lead to the routine, the routine leads to the creativity. As James Clear once said to me in an interview on The Unmistakable Creative, professionals create on a schedule.

Design an Environment and the conditions that Maximize Your Output 

There are 9 environments that make up your life. And all of them shape your behavior, emotions, actions and thoughts. To maximize your creative output, you have to design an environment that is conducive to becoming the person you want to become.

Treat the space in which you do your creative work as a sanctuary. Be deliberate and mindful of everything in that space. The environment in which you express your creativity should be one that motivates and inspires you.

Everyone is at their best at different times of the day. When you work on something matters just as much as what you work on, if you want to be effective. Paying attention to the conditions that lead to your best work will help you to discover your optimal creative rhythm.

The following are the conditions that lead to my best work.

  • Don’t start the day on the internet
  • Block distractions with a tool like Freedom or RescueTime
  • Use noise cancellation headphones with BrainFM
  • No external meetings or phone calls before 10am

The first three hours of my day are the most important because I get more done in those hours than in the entire rest of the day. Determine the conditions that lead to your best work and make them a part of your daily life.

Tools support creative self expression. But without the mindset, habits, skill and commitment to make your ideas happen, the best tools in the world won’t make a difference. Depending on your medium of creative expression, you can use many of the same tools to express your ideas as you do to capture them.

The Value of analog Tools

Don’t underestimate the value of using analog tools in a digital world. In his book, Presentation Zen, Garr Reynolds shares a story about a meeeting he had with a designer at Apple. Garr showed up expecting to see a presentation on a computer and the designer hadn’t turned on the iMac on his desk in days.

The constraints of pen and paper force you to slow down and use your imagination in a way that isn’t as accessible while typing. Writing by hand forces you to be more deliberate with word choices and be more precise in the way you construct sentences. Because you can’t write as fast as you type, it forces you to pause between stimulus and response and reflect on your your words.

For example, I had the idea for this article months ago. I wanted to use an acronym for the word CREATE, but I was struggling to come with the right words for each letter. So, I just wrote the one-word subheadings I would use under each letter.

I wrote down multiple variations until I finally landed on capture, reflect, amplify, tell and evolve, which you’ll notice are the main headers in this article. I even wrote many of the sections in this article before I transferred them to Notion when I was ready to expand on the idea.

In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport recommends a craftsman approach to tool selection:

It doesn’t matter if you use a Moleskine, a Macbook or a napkin. The tools won’t make you the artist you’ve always wanted to be. The work will.

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4. Amplify

Good creative work is an iterative process. Like chipping away at a block of stone to carve a sculpture, we amplify the impact of our ideas when we revisit, edit, ask for feedback and refine our ideas until they’re ready for public consumption.


“When we revisit an idea or kick a soccer ball, myelin coats the neural pathways involved, optimizing the particular circuits and making our movements and thoughts more fluid and efficient in the future. Myelin is vital to the learning process. Most learning takes time, and myelin aids the process by reinforcing signals and slowly strengthening pathways” says Jo Boaler in her book Limitless Mind: Learn, Lead and Live Without Barriers.

Every time you revisit an idea or project, you’ll notice things you didn’t before, and come to it with new ideas and insights.

  • You might learn an interesting fact about how people are using your app in a way you didn’t expect.
  • Perhaps you stumbled on an insight you can apply
  • A conversation with someone might spark an idea for something you want to incorporate

By revisiting ideas, you give yourself and your ideas room to breathe and the space to take shape.


“The art of taking feedback is such a crucial skill in life, particularly harsh and crucial feedback. We not only need to take this harsh feedback, but to actively solicit it and labor to seek out the negative precisely when our friends and family and brain are telling us that we’re doing great.” – Ryan Holiday, Ego is the Enemy

Because our own biases get in the way when we judge our ideas, we overlook opportunities for improvement. Asking for external feedback is an important part of the creative process. Don’t underestimate the value of a second set of eyes to amplify the power of your ideas.

We must be open to constructive criticism which we’re likely to interpret as harsh when our egos get in the way.

When I was working with writing coach Robin on my first book, she NEVER sugarcoated her feedback. If something didn’t meet the standard she was holding me to, she’d leave comments like “lazy” or “try again.” The closest thing to a compliment I’d get was “good.”

It took me a month before I stopped taking her feedback personally and realized she was doing the job I hired her to do: be tough and push me to write the best possible book could. That was one of the main reasons I chose her as my coach.

The key to not taking feedback personally is to realize that feedback on your work or ideas is not feedback on you as a person. You’ll struggle to amplify the impact of your ideas if you can’t do this.

Not all feedback is created equal. Be discerning about whom you ask for feedback. Choose people whose opinions matter, who have your best interests at heart. But be weary of getting feedback from people who will just tell you what you want to hear.


Our first attempt at bringing an idea to life might feel like incoherent psychobabble or as if it’s coming out the wrong end. That’s why it’s called a shitty first draft. As Dani Shapiro says in Still Writing, imagination has its own coherence. In early stages of bringing an an idea to life, you shovel a mountain of shit to find an ounce of gold.

The natural temptation while editing is to add. But the power to amplify the impact of our ideas often comes from what we subtract. We need to question the validity, quality and standards of what we’ve created.

What’s the point am I trying to make here?

Does the work I’ve done support it?

Does this need to be here?

Will it inspire, educate and entertain the people I want to reach?

Am I mailing it in or is the really the best possible work I’m capable of doing?

In the words of Ashley Ambirge, “Will this hit my audience in the face with a crowbar?”

“An editor is not merely someone who says not to things. A three-year old can do that. Nor does an editor simply eliminate; in fact, in a way an editor adds. What I mean is that a good editor is someone who uses deliberate subtraction to actually add life to the ideas, setting, plot and characters,” says Greg Mckeown in his book Essentialism.

When I finished writing Unmistakable: Why Only is Better Than Best, I had to get approval from everyone whose interviews I included in the book. I sent Seth Godin an email to ask for his approval and he made a suggestion that caused me to miss my next deadline by three weeks. But, if Seth Godin gives you advice on writing a book, you listen.

By editing, we amplify the core truth of who we are, what we’re trying to say and how the world sees us at our best.

Emotional Resonance

Emotional resonance is another critical ingredient for amplifying the power of our ideas. It’s the spice that adds flavor to our content. But you can’t know what the emotional impact of your work will be until someone has experienced it.

A simple litmus test for the emotional resonance of your work is: “if the work doesn’t make you feel something, it won’t make anyone else either.”

You create emotional resonance by expressing a bold and compelling point of view, being provocative with a purpose, educating, entertaining, and inspiring your audience to take action or change something about themselves.

Content without emotional resonance is like a Yelp review for an Indian restaurant written by a person who is not Indian and doesn’t actually know whether the food is really any good (and this happens to also a be a good way to figure out whether the food at an Indian restaurant is worth eating).

The purpose of emotional resonance is to touch hearts, not create clickbait to reach as many eyeballs as possible.

Typography, Visuals, Infographics, Videos, Etc

There’s nothing like a giant wall of text to diminish the impact of your ideas. There’s a reason books have chapter titles and subheads: readability. This is even more true for anything you create on the Internet.

As former Unmistakable Creative Guest, Jared Horvath says in his book Stop Talking, Start Influencing, “When you can accurately predict where in space relevant information is likely to occur, you expend less time and energy interpreting that information.”

Take a look any of Ramit Sethi’s Ultimate Guides or Mark Manson’s blog posts, and you’ll see this at work. They’re deliberate about utilizing images and typography, which amplifies the impact of their work.

Overcome the Resistance to Ship

Your biggest source of resistance in those moments when it’s time to ship will be the the temptation to question if the work is ready. At some point, you have get your ideas out into the world.

Your earliest work will be flawed and sometimes fall below the standards you have for it. But if you trace the progression of any creator you will see their earliest work is far from what it is today.

  • Seth Godin didn’t start out as the guy who wrote 17 best-selling books. As he says, “It took a long time to blog like I do today.”
  • AJ Leon designs breath-taking web sites and beautiful e-books. But he didn’t start that way.

Not only is perfection the enemy of progress, it’s subjective. What’s perfect to one person may be a complete piece of shit to another. That’s the nature of creative work.

As Reid Hoffman says, “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you shipped too late.”

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5. Tell

We don’t make ideas happen on a field of dreams. If you build it they won’t come. Not unless you tell them about it. You might be able to maximize creative output without telling people about your work, but you minimize its impact.

You’d never expect someone to show up at your wedding if you didn’t tell them you were getting married and invite them. So why would you expect someone to do that for your creative work?

But somehow, one of the greatest fears many creative people have is self-promotion. It’s a tall order to expect someone to consume your work if you’re not excited enough to tell people about it.

Book marketing strategist Tim Grahl says authors often get nervous about emailing their audience too much during a book launch. He reminds them their readers wouldn’t be on the email list in the first place if they didn’t want to hear from them. Nobody will buy a book if an author is afraid to tell them about it.

Be Unapologetic

If you see sharing your work with someone as a burden rather than a blessing, that’s how it will come across. Think about how you react when some stranger with a clipboard on street approaches you and asks if you have a minute.

By saying things like “sorry to bother you” or “I hate to ask”, you communicate a lack of excitement and confidence about your work and yourself. Stop apologizing for the fact that you want to share what you’ve created.

Invitation vs Promotion

One way to get over the fear of self-promotion is to view it as invitation for people to experience what you’ve created. When we invite a people to something, we know that some of them won’t be able to make it. In the same way, we can come to terms with knowing what we’ve created might not be right for someone.

Start Small

Don’t underestimate the power of starting small when it comes to telling people about your ideas. By starting small, you gain the confidence to share bigger, bolder and more provocative ideas.

Don’t underestimate the power of starting small when it comes to telling people about your ideas. By starting small, you gain the confidence to share bigger, bolder and more provocative ideas.

Ask for Help

You can’t achieve anything of significance without help of other people. When authors write books, they reach out to everyone they know who can help them to amplify the impact of their ideas. And there are some very easy ways to increase the likelihood someone will say yes when you ask.

Help Them First

Everyone is driven by a degree of self-interest. By helping someone first, you build up social capital. Promote their work, buy their books, music or whatever they create.

My friend Nikki Groom recently published her first book. She sent me an email asking if I would share it on social media. Nikki has been a huge supporter of my work for a long time, so it was a no-brainer not only to share but to donate to her Kickstarter campaign.

But don’t keep score. Help with the expectation nothing in return. Quid pro quo won’t help your reputation. When you expect nothing, everything comes to you.

Don't Demand

One thing I’ve seen over and over when people ask others for help is to make demands of them.

  • People who invite people to virtual summits make demands like, “We’re requiring people to send 2 emails to their lists and 3 social media updates to their followers.”
  • Book publicists demand air dates for their authors who appear in media outlets such as podcasts and television segments.
  • Podcasters demand their guests share their interviews

Remember, this person is doing you a favor and not the other way around. Respect the fact that they have a priorities too. If you demand someone says yes to something you want from them, you increase likelihood they’ll say no.

Make it Effortless

The easier you make it for someone to help you, the more likely they are to do it.

  • If you want someone to help you share a blog post, write the tweets and status updates for them.
  • When you want someone to send an email on your behalf, write it for them.

A perfect example of this is Danielle LaPorte. She creates a full-blown promotional kit for all the people she needs help from. Because of this they’re not only more eager to support her, they hardly have to lift a finger.

Recently ConvertKit featured me in one of their creator stories. They created a promotional kit with all the status updates pre-written for me.

They didn’t demand and they made it effortless for me.

You have to master the mindset for self-promotion and telling people about your ideas before you focus on the tactics. There are three main tactics for telling people about your ideas.


Email is still the #1 driver of book sales and the most valuable permission asset any creator can develop to promote their ideas. Think email is dead?

  • The Skimm has over a million subscribers. Their book skyrocketed to the top of the best-seller list in days
  • James Clear has over 500,000 subscribers on his email list and his book Atomic Habits has sold over a million copies.

Unlike a Facebook Fan Page or massive following on Instagram, your email list is something you own. It doesn’t tie you down or cause dependency on any one platform.

Private Communities

One of the most valuable assets that we have is our Unmistakable listener tribe which we’ve built on the Mighty Networks platform. Unlike on Facebook, Twitter or other mainstream social media platforms, on our tribe you own your data, algorithms don’t determine who sees your content and you’re not competing with a billion other people trying to get the attention of their audience.

But communities like this take time and effort to build. Our community manager Milena has spent more than a year getting to know our members and shaping the experience of the listener tribe.

Social Media

On social media the demand for people’s attention is high and the supply is low. As we know from the basic economic theory, when demand is higher than the supply, price goes up. The cost of getting people’s attention is higher than ever.

But that also doesn’t make it useless. The real value of social media is the opportunity to connect with people, build relationships and raise awareness about your work.

My former business partner told me a story about a girl who had over a million followers on Instagram. Someone offered to fund her fashion label if she could sell 30 t-shirts. She didn’t come close. Remember, despite what you might believe, a million followers doesn’t equate to a million dollars.


Personally, I hate the term influencer. There’s a difference between influence and impact. You might be surprised to learn the person with 150 followers might have a much larger impact on your work than the one with 150,000. It’s about the right influencers who can help you reach the right audience.

To get his book in front of more people, Ryan Holiday contacted college professors. And he offered to do a free lecture for the class if the professors included his book in the syllabus. On the surface, a philosophy professor may not appear be an influencer, but could have a bigger impact on helping you get the word out than someone who is “internet famous.”

It’s tempting to think that metrics are an accurate representation of person’s influence. But real influence is the ability to have an impact another person’s actions, choices and ultimately their life.

There are two people who have had a substantial impact on the roster of our guests at Unmistakable Creative.

The first is Clay Hebert and the second is Sarah Peck. Every guest they’ve both referred to the show has been stellar. Because of this, anytime Sarah or Clay recommend a guest, I don’t even read the bios and just say yes because I implicitly trust their judgement.

Two of my most influential mentors would hardly be considered influencers by the standard measure of fans and followers. They’re practically invisible on the internet.

But one had a massive impact on the direction of Unmistakable Creative and the other was a reference that helped me to raise my first round of investor money.

That is influence. Not the number of followers someone has on social media or how impressive their resume is. When you ask for help with getting your work out into the world, look past the perception of someone’s influence and look at the reality of the impact they can have.

Regardless of tools you use to promote your ideas, the quality of the work is what ultimately matters. As I’ve said multiple times, you can’t hide shitty art behind great marketing.

Don't have time to read the whole guide right now? 

No worries. Let me send you the full guide as a PDF with links to interviews, books, and tools mentioned throughout the guide so you can read it when it's convenient for you. 

6. Evolve

You can’t build a body of work or have a successful career in the arts by being a one-hit wonder. Whether you write a best-selling book, win an Oscar or take your company public, you can’t rest on your laurels or stop doing what got you there the first place.

As Ryan Holiday was once told by an editor, “Success gives you the conditional opportunity to try again.”

As you maximize your output, express your ideas and tell people about them you undergo an evolution. You develop skills you didn’t have before, capacity to take on more ambitious projects, more daring ideas and the belief that you’re capable of making those ideas happen.

As you build your body of work and undergo a creative evolution, you’ll experience what economists call positive externalities: unintended benefits of a creative project or an idea that opens the door to others:

  • Starting a blog and building an audience of loyal readers gives you the opportunity to write your first book with a publisher
  • Acting in lots of movies gives you the knowledge, insights and skill to direct your first film

Actress Olivia Wilde is a perfect example of a creative evolution in which she developed new skills and took on more ambitious projects. After establishing herself as an actress in TV Shows and in movies, she made her directorial debut with the teen comedy Booksmart which received critical acclaim. Do you think she’d have been that successful without the skills and experience she gained from her previous projects?

Everything you do influences everything else you do.

We can lament the blog that nobody read, book that didn’t sell or the movie that was a bust at the box office. Or we can get back to work and create whatever is next. The first turns our creative work into a finite game. Doing the latter is how we evolve and maximize creative output.

As you evolve as an artist, so will your ideas.

You might become known for one thing… a particular art form or medium of expression, a genre, etc. If you let yourself be defined by it, you inhibit the process of creative evolution. Remember, labels limit you your capacity. When you let go of a label, you’re able to transcend what you think is possible in the context of that label.

You can support your creative evolution by exploring different art forms or taking online classes that have nothing to do with your work.

Creative Cross Training

The most effective tool I’ve discovered for evolution with your ideas is what I defined as creative cross-training. The idea behind it is to explore an idea outside of your primary domain.

  • If you’re a writer, make a short film or learn to cook. You’ll bring back the lessons from both to what you write next.
  • If you’re a painter, explore photography as an alternative medium of expression.

Keep in mind that it doesn’t have be big. Something like a 100-day project can aid your creative evolution.


When the iPhone 11 came out and I saw what it made possible, I decided to tackle something I’d always wanted to do: make a documentary. But I had to learn what actually went into the process.

First, I bought the book How to Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck. I learned about the importance of shooting from different angles, making a shot-list and more.

Next, I enrolled in Ken Burns documentary filmmaking class, where I learned to mix audio, video and still images, while creating a structure for my story. The result was a short film about the women in my family who make amazing food with zero recipes.

I was able to apply the lessons I learned to producing a different style of podcast episodes like The 36 Questions and Mystery of Love.

You might be tempted to take a linear approach to using the ideas I've shared above. But the creative process isn't linear. Creative thinking works like an interdependent complex system. Any system is the sum of its parts. New ideas are born from old ones. With the work you do today, you plant the seeds for tomorrow.

If you're serious about it, creative success is an infinite game. Success gives you the opportunity to keep playing the game. The ultimate aim of creative self-expression isn't the approval of critics, validation from our parents, peers, audience and especially not strangers on the internet. It's about how reaching a higher state of consciousness which leads to a greater sense of purpose and meaning in our lives.

Capture your ideas, take the time to reflect on them, amplify them, tell people and evolve. If you repeat this process, you'll have a powerful method for maximizing your creative output and navigating the geography of life in the arts.